SHERIDAN, Wyo. — A member of the Crow Tribe in Montana has pleaded guilty to charges related to the poaching of three elk in northern Wyoming last year in a case in which two other defendants, including a tribal game warden, are invoking 147-year-old treaty rights as a defense.
Colton Herrera pleaded guilty in Sheridan County Circuit Court on Monday to charges of accessory to taking a big game animal out of season and accessory to taking a big game or antlered animal.
After the plea agreement, Herrera was fined a total of $1,790 and had 360 days in jail suspended in lieu of a year of unsupervised probation.
Herrera also agreed to pay restitution of $6,000 and surrendered one elk head to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
The case against Herrera stemmed from the January 2014 poaching of three elk in the Bighorn National Forest. Herrera told Circuit Judge Shelley Cundiff on Monday that he was hunting with his brother and a friend in Montana and, while tracking elk, they crossed the Wyoming state line before they were able to shoot the elk.
The meat from the three elk was packed out of the forest and reportedly distributed among members of the tribe.
Three men were cited in October 2014. Herrera’s brother, Clayvin, who is a lieutenant with the Crow Agency Fish and Game, was one of the men cited.
Both Clayvin Herrera and Ronnie Fisher, the third man on the hunting trip, plan to fight the charges, arguing native hunting rights. They were scheduled to appear in Sheridan County Circuit Court later this week.
The case is reviving the old fight between the Crow Indians and the state of Wyoming concerning traditional native hunting grounds.
The Crows argue there is a stipulation in the Treaty of Laramie with the Crows that give them off-reservation hunting rights. These rights allow American Indians living on reservations to hunt unoccupied lands in the U.S. as long as peace is maintained with people who live near the hunting districts.
Wyoming has historically not honored native hunting rights, contending they were nullified when Wyoming became a state. The Treaty of Laramie with the Crows was signed in 1868.
A 1995 ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Wyoming in a similar case, ruling that the treaty right to hunt on Wyoming land was lost when Wyoming became a state in 1890.
However, a 1999 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that hunting and fishing treaty rights for the Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa in Minnesota were still valid off the reservation, the Billings Gazette reported last month. That treaty dated back to 1837.